A crisp hot day in Dubai with a gentle breeze – an appropriate setting for our lad from Chennai, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who had received a wild card to play at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. He faced Dennis Novak in Round 1, an Austrian, who has been steadily climbing up the rankings, a good friend of Dominic Thiem and played in the ATP Cup at the start of the year. Dennis Novak had qualified on Sunday.
Prajnesh was coming from India from the Bengaluru Open where he had lost to Benjamin Bonzi of France in a somewhat discordant fashion. In the thin line up for Indian players, he was the only hope in the singles matches in Dubai.
Prajnesh won the toss and chose to receive. The match began on an even keel with players holding serve with relative ease. The third game saw Prajnesh create the lone break point – deep groundstrokes and clever placement – and he pounced on the opportunity and broke Novak. Alas, he couldn’t consolidate and was broken immediately in his service game.
Describing the lost chance, Prajnesh felt that his shot selection could certainly have been better and in that game didn’t display the requisite focus to keep charging ahead. He was obviously disappointed to have given up the lead which, in his own measure, could have changed the outcome of the match. An honest self-assessment was that it was a ‘loose game’.
The set was back on track and he saved a couple of break points in the 6th game from 15-40. Set 1 was poised at 5-4. He had shaken off the loss of the break. The 10th game and Prajnesh was serving to stay in the set. Opened with an unreturnable serve down the tee. An unforced error levelled things up. A few points later, Novak created an opportunity to take the set and it was wrapped up.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Prajnesh had break points in the 3rd game and couldn’t convert. That perhaps played on his mind and he was broken in the very next game. He fought valiantly to set the match back to even terms, but couldn’t keep the momentum going. Another break to Novak and then it was all over.
When asked about the overall comments on the match, Prajnesh described it as a close match with only a few points separating them. Articulated that Novak was dictating the match a lot more and that he was defending quite a bit, putting him on the backfoot and creating a lot of pressure. He knew he had some chances and if he had converted, the match would have been very close, but didn’t do enough to hurt Novak and to dictate the rallies.
While he was serving fairly fast, the accuracy was errant. Part of the problem with the serve not being strong or accurate enough was that Novak was responding with a deep return and the rally was going into neutral territory. He praised Novak for timing the ball well and for returning deep at his toes. Novak attacked more, was up to the challenge of Prajnesh’s heavy topspin forehand and made Prajnesh run from corner to corner.
When asked if he needed to come up closer to the baseline, he responded in the affirmative, feeling that he could have if was in the attack mode, but since he was more on the defensive, he kept getting pushed back further. Novak won a greater percentage of the baseline rallies because Prajnesh was not able to attack on the first few shots. He played far too much in the middle of the court and didn’t move his opponent around enough. All tell tale signs of not having enough match practice and lacking some killer instinct.
On a positive note, he is feeling completely match fit with no injuries plaguing him and ready to head to the Davis Cup, Indian Wells and Miami. All he needs is a healthy bout of confidence!
Regarding the Davis Cup, he was upbeat about their chances. Hoped that Sumit and he would be able to step up to the task of the singles and then the doubles have great pairings with Leander, Ram and Rohan. Affirming the goal of entering the World Group, he seemed to suggest the opportunities are there for the taking.
All photos by Deepthi Indukuri –